Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Rock around the Revolution: New Jersey in Chicago?

No matter where you go, you're bound to run into New Jersey. I just wasn't expecting it on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, embedded in the side of a Gothic building.

Admittedly, I found this one about 20 years ago, back when my New Jersey history maven cred was in its infancy. Yeah, I'll admit it: I was the one hanging around the Excellent Diner in Westfield, reminding people that the state was once home to four, count 'em FOUR pre-fab diner manufacturers. It was well before Ivan and I met, and while I did my share of exploring, it didn't yet involve birds.

Anyway, a friend and I made a weekend visit to Chicago for its annual Blues Festival and whiled away some free time enjoying the city's amazing downtown architecture. As we walked past the Chicago Tribune building, I noticed something very unusual: embedded within the uniform granite blocks of the walls are scores, maybe hundreds of irregularly-shaped stones, each labeled with a description and a place.

At first, I figured they might represent locations in Illinois, but as I sought more out, I noticed they came from many states, and even historically significant places in Europe, Asia and beyond. Tribune publisher Robert McCormick had started the tradition before the building was erected, asking the newspaper's correspondents to deliver rocks and bricks from historically significant places. The tradition continues today, with portions of the Berlin Wall and World Trade Center girders incorporated in the building's walls.

There would be no justice if there was no rock to represent New Jersey. Had the Trib assigned a correspondent to the state, and if so, had he (or she) taken the assignment seriously?

The answer came pretty quickly:

Yup: a stone from the Battle of Trenton. I searched farther and found one labeled ambiguously as "New Jersey Washington's Landing after crossing the Delaware River." Another was flatter and browner -- "Revolutionary Battlefield Princeton, New Jersey." Mixed among rocks from Prairie DuChien, Wisconsin, Great Wall of China, Hawaii's Pearl Harbor and Omaha Beach in Normandy, Princeton actually gets another shout-out from the Trib building, with a squarish rock from "New Jersey Princeton University."

The Trib's New Jersey correspondent was apparently a bit of an overachiever, delivering four rocks back to HQ. Granted, he took the easy way out, grabbing specimens from four places no more than 15 miles from his presumed Trenton bureau office, but their significance is unquestioned.

And, well, from what I can surmise, there are more rocks from New Jersey embedded at the Trib than from any other jurisdiction of its type within the United States, maybe the world. This list gives you an idea of what's there... it may not be complete, but it's still staggering to see how well we're represented, and you don't see a heck of a lot of other Revolutionary-era sites on the list, either.

If you were going to send a New Jersey stone to the Trib building, what would you choose?


  1. I'd send the Trib. three stones right off the bat: one from The Palisades, a hunk of South Jersey conglomerate (Hollybush, the President's home at Glassboro State College, now Rowan U., is made of it.) and a sizable Cape May diamond.

    1. Great suggestions, and history can be attached to each of them!


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